Extraction Oil and Gas Plans Leave City Without Air Quality Equipment in Place and Lacking Public Health Order Meant to Protect Residents from Flowback Operations During the Covid-19 Epidemic
In a lengthy meeting Tuesday night, Broomfield City Council members, acting as Broomfield’s Board of Health (BOH), took to the public phone lines and Channel 8 to express their apologies to residents for their lack of action on a Public Health Order. The statements of each member in their Board of Health capacity oftentimes appeared to echo statements from City Council meetings of years past with apologies that the public health and safety of residents could not be prioritized, owing to the notion that taking any action that would alter Extraction’s timeline and/or plans would be perceived as a violation of the operator agreement signed in 2017 — and met with continued threats of legal action by Extraction Oil and Gas. Despite consistent and repeated citizen complaints pointing to the company’s failure to provide an effective “closed loop system” and “quiet fleets,” the city continues to perceive itself as hamstrung in light of the 2017 Operator Agreement. That agreement was passed by prior City Council Members: Liz Law Evans, Greg Stokes, Sam Taylor, David Beacom, and Martha Derda. Law Evans is the sole member of Broomfield City Council who voted to pass that agreement who remains in office.
“That agreement that residents were assured was the ‘gold standard’ and would protect us and keep us safe continues to impact the city council — and now subsequently the Board of Health’s — perceived ability to take any meaningful action on the part of residents. This, even though we have clearly experienced sleepless nights, excessive noise, dangerous fumes from benzene spikes and recorded VOCs during Extraction operations,” said resident Lizzie Lario.
As the Board of Health emerged from its multi-hour executive session, the community was allowed to listen to statements from each council member acting in their role as a Board of Health member, as well as the Mayor and city attorney Sullivan. As residents tuned in, it quickly became clear the BOH intended to take no action, with each council member taking turns to make statements. Most stated they were sorry to have failed residents, but that they were trying to remain hopeful that their requests to at least allow the city to properly install the final pieces of the Air Quality Monitoring program ahead of flowback would be granted by Extraction.
In her remarks, member Lim spoke with conviction in her representation as a Board of Health member, empowered by the state to act, and of her need to effectively represent and protect hundreds of impacted residents in her Ward. Said Lim, “We have sovereign power as the BOH. The judge clearly stated that in his April 6th ruling on preemption. There is nothing arbitrary and capricious about the consideration by the BOH to protect our vulnerable residents from either exacerbating their COVID 19 conditions or keeping them from being more susceptible to Covid-19. Yet we find that the BOH is not moving forward with this order under our current legal system, and I believe we have fallen short. It is insufficient that the only thing I can offer to our residents at this point is the pledge to get some additional protections in place.”
Lim also stated that it was unacceptable for the city to have spent 1.5 million in expenditures for its Air Quality Monitoring program only to have this equipment not in place during the critical flowback phase of operation. Some pieces of the equipment for the program have experienced a delay because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Extraction has been asked to pause the start of flowback for at least one week to allow for this equipment to arrive and be properly put in place. Added Lim, “We promised our residents that we would have the Air Quality Monitoring system in place, and I expect that to be in place before flowback goes forward.”
Lim also noted the readily apparent gaps in the emergency evacuation plans, which would be implemented should there be an accident or explosion on the site. Residents have been alarmed at the city’s suggestion that residents would be evacuated to the First Bank Center by the thousands, citing concerns over the ability to ensure human health and safety amidst highly transmissible disease in such an environment.
Lim concluded her remarks with a call to residents: “We have continually asked a lot of our residents and we are going to ask you for one other thing. We are going to ask you to continue to fill out health complaints as flowback moves forward so we have that data. And as our attorney says we are looking at other ways to help our residents who are impacted by both flowback and Covid-19.”
Following the completion of statements from members of the Board of Health, Mayor Quinn opened the phone lines and provided citizens three minutes of time to direct questions and comments. Residents took that time to recount the sleepless nights due to noise, the experiences of being exposed to chemical fumes and the inability to peacefully occupy their homes during various phases of Extraction’s Broomfield operations. Resident statements reiterated longstanding concerns that Extraction would be unable to follow through on their corporate promises to successfully introduce a new business model centered on urban and residential drilling and act as “good neighbors” and partners to communities in which they operate.
Residents testimony also reflected considerable frustration that the Board of Health had so dramatically shifted course in a matter of a few short days, despite each member, including the mayor, having previously and publicly pledged to support a vote on a Public Health Order in the initial Board of Health meeting to address the matter held March 25th. At that meeting, a vote was deferred after a sub-motion by member Law Evans in which it was stated that while all appeared to be pledging support for the health director Jason Vahling’s recommendation to pass a Public Health Order, a brief pause was in order to simply review the language ahead of the vote.
In the initial meeting, member Law Evans had stated, “This whole thing is unprecedented.” But her later motion to not take a vote at that time, subsequently opened the door for a multi-day delay, the filing by Extraction of a Temporary Restraining Order, the requirements of the court to then weigh in overturning that TRO and to arrive at, now today, a place where no vote has taken place.
Looking to better understand the extreme shift from a dialogue about public health matters — to one of financial priority and legal proceedings — callers also requested that the Board of Health read out any motions made and votes taken while the group had been in executive session for hours. The mayor’s response was that no motions had been made and no votes had been called during the Executive Session.
Following the citizen comments, Council Member Shaff asked to make a motion, essentially resuscitating the Board of Health’s consideration of a Public Health Order and requesting a vote be taken, prompting considerable discussion and dialogue.
The discussion was interrupted by a movement by Council Member Liz Law Evans to “call a question” meant to cease any further conversation and force an immediate vote, which failed. Upon that failed attempt to stop dialogue on the matter, Council Member Shaff once again took up the matter, once again moving to take a vote on the previously discussed Public Health Order as it was written.
That motion was ultimately superseded by a sub-motion by Council Member Anderson to review and update the language and conduct a formal vote on the matter on Wednesday evening, April 8th. Anderson’s motion passed by a vote of 8-2. Specifically, Anderson’s order directs staff to revise the language, updating it with modifications and edits that were previously submitted last week by member Lim, and affording the opportunity for edits to be made based on new information from the last 24-hour period. City attorney Sullivan stated that he had been unable, as of yet, to incorporate Lim’s suggestions made last week.
Extraction has not shared specifics with the city about when precisely it will undertake flowback, providing only a vague date of mid-April for the start. Inspectors from the City and County of Broomfield have stated that they estimate that flowback could start as early as Friday, April 10.
Based on the latest modeling being utilized at the state level, the company’s flowback operations will coincide with Colorado’s peak of the Covid-19 respiratory pandemic, timing which has been of grave concern to hundreds of residents, particularly those located in the senior citizen community immediately adjacent to the Livingston Pad. Recent studies, including one out of Harvard University, have closely linked even small negative impacts to air quality with large increases in the COVID-19 death rate.
It is unclear at this time whether Extraction intends to allow the community a one-week reprieve so that the city’s Air Quality Monitoring can be installed ahead of the flowback stage.
Please write to City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org urging them to pass the Public Health Order, protecting resident health and safety during the time period the Governor has stay-at-home orders issued.